2015, R, 131 mins.
2015, R, 131 mins.
Tom Hardy as Ronald Kray / Reginald Kray / Emily Browning as Frances Shea / Taron Egerton as Teddy Smith / David Thewlis as Leslie Payne / Colin Morgan as Frankie / Franck Shea / Christopher Eccleston as Leonard 'Nipper' Read / Paul Anderson as Albert Donoghue / Chazz Palminteri as Angelo Bruno / Aneurin Barnard as David Bailey / Millie Brady as Joan Collins / Charley Palmer Rothwell as Leslie Holt / Bob Cryer as Charles Kray Snr
Written and directed by Brian Helgeland
Not to be confused with the 1985 Ridley Scott fantasy film starring Tom Cruise of the same name, LEGEND is a new fact-based crime drama that explores twin brother gangsters that were the foremost leaders in organized crime in the East End of London during the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Reggie and Ronnie Kray – “The Krays” – systematically
engaged in multiple robberies, racketeering, assaults, and murder until
their crime wave caught up with them in 1969, after which time they were
locked up – one in prison, and the other in a mental institution – for
most of the remainder of their lives.
Reggie was released on compassionate grounds due to suffering from
cancer in 2000, whereas Reggie died while still in Broadmoor Hospital in
LEGEND is a
somewhat spot-on, but somewhat ill-focused chronicle of this pair of
infamous UK criminals, directed with an assured and exquisite eye for
period detail by Brain Helgeland (the Oscar nominated writer of L.A.
CONFIDENTIAL and MYSTIC RIVER and the director of 42,
A KNIGHT’S TALE, and PAYBACK),
but with a somewhat detached sense of an overwhelming sweep that covers
the Krays' lives. The more
I watched the film the less I grew to understand what the Krays’
criminal reign in London was made up of, not to mention that there’s
very little insight into the forces that allowed for the brothers to
become such unstoppable titans of the underworld.
However, even when LEGEND feels unfinished and lacking in
substantial story elements, the film is uniformly saved by the sheer
presence – or should I say dual presence – of Tom Hardy, one of our
most ferociously empowered and chameleon-like actors, who takes it upon
himself to give into the unique acting challenge of playing twin brothers.
Every single moment Hardy occupies the screen – by himself or
with himself – LEGEND pulsates with alluring intrigue. It could easily be argued that Hardy’s volcanic stature
here saves and otherwise problematic film.
The film opens
with introducing us to Reggie and Ronnie Kray and their mutual yearning
to be powerful figures in London’s underground crime world, but the two
men’s differing mindsets and ideologies always come to a head.
Reggie prefers to remain more guarded and inconspicuous, whereas
Ronnie suffers from schizophrenia and is so mentally disturbed that only
brotherly love and commitment would have allowed Reggie to let his sibling
in on his corrupt plans. What allowed for the brothers to become so powerful was the
fact that they possessed dirt on the country’s leading politicians and
law enforcement officials, but that didn’t stop a steadfastly
determined Detective Leonard (Christopher Eccleston) from pursuing a case against them. As
the Krays slowly, but surely rise the ranks of the criminal underworld,
Reggie finds himself falling in love and eventually marries Frances
(Emily Browning, whose character somewhat awkwardly narrates the film),
but as the lives of both brothers begin to dangerously spiral out of
control, Frances finds herself dealing with nagging doubts about her
to transport us to London of yesteryear with fairly effortless strokes.
LEGEND is a film that consistently and wholeheartedly feels of its
time and place, which always allows for it to have a persuasive authenticity.
Amidst the film’s solid production artifice lurks a few key
scenes that really cuts to the heart of the Krays and their business
empire. One in particular
occurs midway, during which time Reggie and Ronnie have a chance meeting
with an American Mafioso (Chazz Palminteri) in hopes of striking up a
lucrative cross-country partnership.
As the group shares a toast to celebrate their newfound business
relationship, Ronnie makes a rather unabashed confession that he’s a
homosexual and prefers the company of men, which the American don greets
with enthusiasm, citing Ronnie’s courage in making such a claim.
Scenes like this cut to the core of who the Krays were: It simply
didn’t matter that one was gay during a time when that lifestyle choice
was shunned. They were essentially unstoppable and highly dangerous men, so
who would ever challenge Ronnie’s lifestyle choice anyway?
ostensibly a performance showcase piece for Tom Hardy, and the actor
hardly disappoints in the film. There’s rarely a moment here – sans a few scenes
where the somewhat shoddy effects work betrays him – when you doubt
that Hardy is actually playing two different and distinct characters that
occupy the same space on screen. Hardy
smoothly evokes Reggie’s slick, confident, smooth talking and laid back demeanor
that can transition to barbaric hostility at the drop of a hat.
His Ronnie is a whole other story altogether: hot headed, quick to
anger, deranged, and lacking in most basic social skills, Hardy
shows this skitzo brother as an unpredictable ticking time bomb that’s
always an unwanted threat to the entire Kray criminal mob empire.
Because Hardy is such a tour de force dynamo in just about any film
he occupies, he more than sells the fact that Ronnie and Reggie and two
polar opposite individuals – both physically and emotionally – that
act as dramatically compelling foils to one another.
Watching Hardy sink his teeth into dual roles as only a method
performer like him could is undoubtedly a mesmerizing trip to take.
no doubt that the underlining material in the script is not up to par with
Hardy’s exhilarating performance(s).
Too much of LEGEND feels like it’s cherry-picking the more
sensationalistic elements of the Krays' lives and doesn’t seem too
interested in the subtler psychological details.
We do come to understand Krays and their actions, but gain little foresight
into why they perpetrated their crimes, which leaves the overall film
lacking in historical and personal context.
Oftentimes, I was left wondering how two chaotic and unhinged
people managed to successfully make their mark on the crime world as a
in the first place without killing each other in the process.
The primary war between the brothers and the law – specifically
Detective Leonard – seems underdeveloped, not to mention that a solid
character actor like Eccelston seems like he’s not utilized to his
fullest potential. Then
there’s the handling of Frances, and even though Emily Browning is
convincing in the role, the screenplay de-values her as just another
rudimentary and perfunctory mob wife cliché.
Considering the supremely tragic arc of her character, she
certainly deserved more and better than what Helgeland provides for here.
Nevertheless, I find myself in a rare position of recommending - with some strong reservations - a film based solely on the strength of its lead actor. Granted, without Hardy’s very presence in LEGEND would I have been compelled to see it in the first place? Probably not, even though I have great respect for Helgeland as a filmmaker. There are times when the film feels like a Martin Scorsese-light approach to potentially strong mobster material, and the screenplay here certainly doesn’t have the all-encompassing focus it should have had (especially considering its two-plus hour runtime). Still, Hardy’s immeasurable on-screen talent is on full bravura force in LEGEND, and he single-handedly takes a pedestrian film and turns it into a fairly thrilling one.
In tackling the lives of criminals during their reign of terror, LEGEND is an undercooked effort. As a show-stopping exhibition of one of the finest actors working in contemporary cinema, the film is bloody good.